The MBTA says it has withdrawn plans to build the $5.6 million monopole system for improved Wi-Fi service along its commuter rail network’s rights of way. In addition, it may take some time to restart the project because of other MBTA construction projects. “Implementation of the Wi-Fi project at this time cannot be undertaken consistent with the MBTA’s transportation system and safety needs,” MBTA Interim General Manager Steve Poftak wrote In a letter Thursday to BAI Communications U.S. CEO Jerry Elliott . “At present, the MBTA must necessarily focus on the federally-mandated and time-sensitive positive train control project as well as the Green Line extension project, and activities on the right of way in support of the License will be delayed accordingly.”
The positive train control project involves installing equipment designed to prevent train crashes. The monopole plan included 14 commuter rail lines and boat lines and the South, North and Back Bay stations. The monopole plans drew nearly universal criticism from state and federal legislators and from municipalities and residents located along the pole path who said the poles would interfere with historic sites, community character and with scenic views. Poftak said, in his letter to Elliott, concerns over the effects of the monopoles on historic sites and community character were “valid." The commonwealth’s 11-member Congressional delegation sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission in late July asking the commission to look into the poles. “The commonwealth of Massachusetts is home to some of the most important historical sites in the United States, and it is essential to preserve these sites for future generations,” the delegation wrote, according to a letter released by Sen. Edward Markey’s office, D-Mass. “The commission should consider how installing monopoles high above the tree line could impact the historic and cultural character of the involved cities and towns.” The MBTA notified contractor BAI Communications that it will not approve the company’s current Wi-Fi system proposal, under which BAI would install the monopoles. In a letter to BAI, the MBTA said the proposal is not consistent with the license agreement, and cited concerns among members of the public and among federal and state legislators concerning the project’s impact on historic sites and community character. The MBTA said the pole license anticipated a more modest project involving the use of “short monopoles” or “existing light poles” to provide Wi-Fi, with only “excess space” available for lease to third party communication providers.
BAI’s current proposal would double the size of every pole (and install an extensive fiber network) for the purpose of creating infrastructure to lease. The MBTA has invited BAI to submit a new implementation plan that better reflects the more modest project anticipated by the license, on a timeframe that is consistent with the MBTA’s transportation and safety needs.
The State House News Service contributed to this story.